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Goal 2: Ensure public services are equitable and inclusive

“It feels like we assume the public are upper-middle-class white people with college degrees.” - User research interview with Christian Griffith, Chief Consultant, Assembly Budget Committee

COVID-19 showed how public services can mean the difference between life and death. Given these stakes, the state has an obligation to make sure all Californians can equitably access public services. Technology plays a critical role in meeting that obligation.

Making public services fair and inclusive requires focus and work.

In California, nearly 16 million Californians speak a language other than (or besides) English. And non-native English speakers include many of the most vulnerable Californians. But many public services can appear as if these Californians were an afterthought.,

Different abilities may require people to engage with technology differently. They may need screen readers or web pages with more distinct colors. This is not a niche issue. Nearly a quarter of adult Californians have some kind of disability. Throughout our lives, most of us will experience disability, whether permanently or temporarily. Assembly Bill 434 (AB-434) recognized this by requiring government websites to comply with industry and federal accessibility standards. But being inclusive and accessible to all is more far reaching than complying with rules. It requires understanding the needs of those we seek to include, and testing with them to help ensure we meet the mark.

Making public services more accessible and inclusive improves the experience for everyone. We do not intend to exclude. But our defaults make exclusion more common than we would like to admit. For example, many websites are written at a post-graduate reading level. This is typical of government writing. Simplifying the information we share with the public to a 6th grade reading level makes it easier for all Californians to understand and engage with their government. Inclusion is hard work. It requires dedication and focus.

Diverse teams help. What we put out to the world reflects our biases and experiences. We need teams that look like California as we build technology to serve Californians. Building these teams requires hiring talent, partnering and purchasing services from people who reflect the totality of California. COVID-19 illustrated how a simple change such as dropping the requirement to be on-site in Sacramento — opened the state to vendors and talent who are normally excluded. We can and must make our broader state technology community better reflect our state.

Challenges to focus our work ahead together

Challenge 2.1: How can we make digital services and information accessible to everyone?

Why this matters:

  • All Californians must be able to access government services.
  • Digital is increasingly the primary and expected channel for government services.
  • Compliance with AB-434 and industry accessibility standards do not automatically result in increased accessibility for real users.
  • Improving service accessibility will improve the experience for all Californians.

Challenge 2.2: How can we ensure all Californians have access to affordable, reliable high performance broadband?

Why this matters:

  • California seeks to deliver more services digitally, but without greater broadband access this strategy won’t reach many vulnerable people who most need state services.
  • 23 percent of California housing units — home to 8.4 million residents — do not have broadband subscriptions.
  • These Californians face five significant hurdles in accessing or adopting broadband: availability (speed and reliability), affordability, access to devices, digital skills and the data to focus our solutions.
  • Delivering broadband to all Californians will require at least $6.8 billion in private, federal, and state investments as bandwidth demand continues to grow — outstripping expected funding from the Federal Communication Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund and existing state programs.

Achieving the state’s goal of Broadband For All will require partnerships with and support from the broadband industry and federal, municipal and tribal governments.

Challenge 2.3: How might we better reflect the diversity of California in the teams building technology for California?

Why this matters:

  • More diverse government workforces — in terms of sex, race, ethnicity, language, ability, and experience — leads to better policy outcomes for represented communities. Diverse workforces with diverse life experience and perspectives are better able to understand people’s needs.
  • Diverse workplaces are known to value inclusion help attract and retain the best talent from a wider pool.
  • Our state technology workforce does not yet reflect the state we serve, particularly among women (35 percent of workforce vs. 50 percent of population) and Hispanic or Latino colleagues (12 percent of workforce vs. 39 percent of population).

Challenge 2.4 How can we create an equitable, inclusive and diverse playing field for technology vendors?

Why this matters:

  • In general, our technology policy and procurement environment incentivizes large technology procurements (e.g., tens or hundreds of millions of dollar “projects”) instead of smaller procurements (e.g., sub-million dollar “teams”), which results in a small pool of eligible vendors that may not deliver the best results.
  • Procurements focused on approaches or solutions that have already been decided limit innovation, speed and quality of problem-solving, and may exclude newer, smaller vendors with new or innovative approaches.
  • Engagement and surveys with technology companies found many barriers to entry, especially for companies new to doing business with the state.